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No. 11 Virginia men’s basketball dominates James Madison 65-34 in home opener

The Cavaliers ran away in the second half, limiting the Dukes with strong defensive pressure while building a significant advantage

<p>Senior forward Mamadi Diakite was a key force on both sides of the ball for Virginia, recording his first career double-double on the night.&nbsp;</p>

Senior forward Mamadi Diakite was a key force on both sides of the ball for Virginia, recording his first career double-double on the night. 

No. 11 Virginia defeated James Madison 65-34 in its home opener at John Paul Jones Arena Sunday night. The Cavaliers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) toppled the Dukes (1-1, 0-0 CAA) in the two teams’ first meeting since Virginia opened the 2014-15 season with a 79-51 win in Harrisonburg. Virginia has never lost in the 10 matchups between the two squads.

After holding Syracuse to just 23.6 percent shooting from the field last week, Virginia’s defense held the Dukes to 22.6 percent and forced 19 turnovers. Through two games, the Cavaliers are holding opponents to 34 points per game.

Senior forward Mamadi Diakite was the star on both sides of the ball for Virginia with his first career double-double on the night. Diakite scored a career-high 19 points and snagged 13 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers to victory. 

“As one of the leaders, I wanted to make a statement and show everyone that we’re coming out [to play],” Diakite said.  

Senior guard Braxton Key also recorded a double-double against the Dukes with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Virginia’s ball movement challenged James Madison right from the start. However, streaks of careless passing by the Cavaliers allowed the Dukes to score off turnovers. Shooting also looked off the mark for Virginia, who was just 13 for 35 from the field in the first half. 

Despite early struggles, Diakite was a strong presence for the Cavaliers with 16 points, six rebounds, one block and one steal in the first half. On the other side, junior guard Matt Lewis was a force for the Dukes, scoring 11 points — including three three-pointers — and adding five rebounds.

Diakite and Key combined to lead Virginia in the early goings, powering the Cavaliers to a 11-3 lead and scoring from all over the court. Before Virginia could build a commanding lead, a pair of three-pointers from junior guard Darius Banks and Lewis helped James Madison get back into the game. 

With 8:17 left in the first half, the Dukes took their first lead of the night after yet another three-pointer by Lewis pushed the score to 15-14 in James Madison’s advantage. The two teams proceeded to trade points as neither Virginia’s defense nor offense could truly settle into the game.

Later in the first half, Sophomore guard Kihei Clark sunk his first three of the night to push Virginia’s lead to 25-20 and jump-start a 9-0 run. Diakite slammed back-to-back dunks, while Huff showed talent on both sides of the ball, scoring an easy layup before rejecting Lewis in an attempt downcourt. 

Despite an up-and-down first half, Virginia led James Madison 31-23 at the break. 

Virginia hit another gear in the second half as the offense came alive, while the defense continued shutting down the Dukes.

Key jump-started the scoring for Virginia in the second half, recording seven straight points. The frontcourt trio of Key, Huff and Diakite — along with Stattmann and Clark — fueled a 13-0 run for Virginia as the host’s lead increased to 51-26 with 11:55 remaining.

The Cavaliers never looked back, playing solid fundamental basketball and racing to extend their lead.

“I thought in the second half the guys adjusted well,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “They started [to be] a little more aggressive and [tried not] to play [as] perfect and scared and they punched some gaps. We moved some pieces around to give some more room and I thought it was better.”

After building a significant 61-32 advantage, Bennett took the opportunity to give junior forward Austin Katstra, sophomore guard Jayden Nixon and managers Matt Palumbo and Grant Kersey playing time. 

With a 65-34 win over James Madison, Virginia starts off the 2019-20 season as strong as ever, as both new and returning Cavaliers have played well. Virginia next hosts Columbia at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday as part of the 2019 Air Force Reserve Tip-off Tournament. Tipoff is at noon.